Cherry Hill Sportsbook Saga ‘Ripe’ For A Ruling, Both Sides Agree

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The dispute continues in the curious case of the owners of a Cherry Hill strip mall and the previous owners over whether a sportsbook can be opened at the site.

New Jersey law restricts retail sportsbooks to Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks, plus this property, which intentionally was grandfathered in by previous iterations of the law (so was the site of the former Atlantic City Race Course, but that was unintentional and there has been no sign of interest there).

On Monday, defendants GS Park Racing — the former Garden State Park racetrack property — and Greenwood Racing — which owns Parx Casino near Philadelphia — produced a filing in U.S. District Court that actually supports the plaintiffs’ position that the case is “ripe for adjudication.”

That’s in spite of the fact that those plaintiffs — Cherry Hill Towne Center Partners — have failed to even apply for a sportsbook license with the state Racing Commission.

The defendants — who were ordered by a federal judge last month to provide missing information, as were the plaintiffs — also agree that they have no standing to file some sort of protest with the commission based on the lawsuit.

Full disclosure?

One sticking point is whether the mall owner must disclose to the commission the existence of a “restrictive covenant” dating back to 1999 that defendants say voids the mall owner’s interest in opening what would be a 6,800-square-foot sportsbook.

“It is the plaintiffs’ obligation to demonstrate to the Racing Commission that both plaintiff and the location where plaintiff proposes to conduct sports wagering activities are suitable and the restrictive covenant — by plaintiffs’ own admission — renders plaintiff’s proposed location ‘unsuitable’ for licensing as a sports wagering facility,” writes attorney for the defendants Robert Rivera-Soto, a former state Supreme Court judge who a decade ago ran into an issue in the long-running Jayson Williams fatal shooting saga.

“It is disingenuous to assert that the existence of the restrictive covenant or this litigation — which plaintiff itself brought in the first instance — somehow are irrelevant in the sports wagering licensing contest,” Rivera-Soto added.

The defendants ask that the commission not consider an application for a sports betting license at Cherry Hill — an application that, for unknown reasons, does not yet exist.

“Judge-ment Day” could be nearing

The ball appears to be squarely in Judge Renee Bumb’s court. The mall owner wants to be allowed to offer wagers pending settlement of the case, while the previous owners of the site want an injunction to prevent that.

Though the lack of a sports betting license application is curious, it may not much matter if the judge sides with the mall owner. That’s because the principal owner, Jack Morris, already has been vetted and approved by the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement since he is a part-owner of the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City that opened last year at the former Trump Taj Mahal site.

Also, Morris says he is negotiating with a pair of sportsbook operators who would run the show, “both of which,” he adds, “are fully licensed by NJDGE and currently are operating sports wagering facilities in New Jersey.”

So the real challenge for Morris is getting around that pesky 1999 covenant that bans “horse racing, simulcasting, off-track betting, wagering activities and gambling and gaming of any sort (collectively, ‘Gaming’) anywhere on the GSP Property” by anyone other than the former track owners.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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